Sadly, India and Pakistan are fighting again. Some parts of Gujarat, such as Kutch, are perilously close to Pakistan.
“We boarded a smallish propeller aeroplane, a Bombardier, which serves the daily flight from Bombay in Maharashtra to Kandla in Kutch.
Our one and a half hour Spicejet flight headed north west from Bombay. After traversing Saurashtra, the southern peninsula of western Gujarat (also known as ‘Kathiawad’), we flew over an area of rivers and marshes, and begun descending towards the airport of Kandla in Kutch.
Many centuries ago, Kutch was an island between Gujarat and Sindh. It was separated from the mainland by rivers along its northern and eastern edges, and the sea along its southern edge. The rivers disappeared after a series of seismic disturbances, only to be replaced by arid rocky deserts, the Ranns of Kutch. Until the 1940s, Kutch was fiercely independent of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Despite frequent attacks by its neighbour Sindh (now part of Pakistan) and the Mughals, the Kutchis retained their autonomy. One of the reasons we were visiting this outlying part of India, now incorporated within the State of Gujarat, was to visit the area from which my wife’s mother’s ancestors originated. Another reason was that we had heard that it is beautiful.
Kandla airport is small. As we descended from the ‘plane onto the tarmac, I noticed that our aircraft was surrounded by army men holding loaded machine guns, their muzzles pointing downwards. There were numerous signs forbidding photography because this airport is primarily a military base only 133 kilometres from the Indian border with Pakistan. There was no baggage conveyor belt system. The luggage from the ‘plane was brought to the tiny terminal in wagons from which we had to help ourselves to our bags.”
This is an excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. It is avalable on Kindle and as a paperback from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon.
Street tea making stalls are found all over India. They are great places for quenching your thirst and avoiding low blood sugar situations.
I am writing this during a visit to the Gujarati city of Vadodara, where we spoke to two tea makers this morning. One of them was a charming lady, who told us that she manned her stall from 630 am until 730 pm daily. She heats her tea on a gas ring. The gas cylinder contains enough gas for 15 days.
India’s present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, worked briefly as a tea maker (‘chai wallah’) during his childhood. There is a chai wallah in Bangalore, whose shop is in Johnson Market. Not only does he serve excellent tea, but also he works as a local politician. He has his own party, whose symbol is a pocket calculator. He stands as a candidate in elections, but has never yet won any of them. He told us that if one chai wallah could become Prime Minister, there is no reason why another could not do the same.
Gopal , who has a tea stall near the entrance to one of the former pols* of Varodara, works from 10 am to 6 pm. His stall was very busy when we visited it this morning. It faces a peepal tree with numerous Hindu offerings around the base of its trunk. One of the daily offerings to the gods is the first cup of tea that Gopal makes each morning.
Like most other chai wallahs we have visited in Gujarat, Gopal adds fresh herbs and spices to his tea. Today, he had large sprigs of mint leaves and bunches of lemon grass and ginger. He pounds the latter in a pestle and mortar. He told us that pounding the ginger releases more flavour than grating it, which is what many chai wallahs do.
I asked Gopal whether I could take photographs of him and his stall. He allowed me to do so. As we were leaving him, he told his customers proudly (in Gujarati):
“Our Prime Minister has to go to the UK and USA to have his picture taken. See, people from the UK have come all the way from London to Vadodara to photograph me.”
* A pol is an ancient form of gated community, built for protection, found in the historic centres of Varodara and (more prevalently) Ahmedabad.
During our eight weeks of travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, we made much use of public transport. We used mainly buses. As in other parts of India, some buses are run by private companies, and other by the local state, in our case Gujarat, which operates under the name ‘Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation’ (‘GSRTC’). At the outset, we made the assumption that privately-run buses are bound to be better than those run by the state. It was only near the end of our travels that we discovered that we had made an erroneous assumption.
Here are some extracts about buses in Gujarat from my book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”:
On a private bus between Junagadh and Porbandar:
“Our vehicle stopped frequently. Whenever the conductor saw someone standing by the side of the road, he leaned out of the open passenger door, shouting our destination repeatedly: “Porbandar! Porbandar! Porb…” More and more people boarded our small bus. All the seats became occupied as did the space at the front of the vehicle around the driver. As the bus picked up even more people, even the standing room became used up. People were jammed against each other and their arms and baggage invaded the seated passengers’ space. A lady began resting her bag on Lopa’s head. When she objected, the woman said: “Where else can I put it?” Another person almost sat on Lopa’s lap.
There was hardly any room for the conductor. He spent most of the journey leaning out of the passenger door. When Lopa asked him whether this was dangerous, he responded cheerfully that it was part of his job. After about an hour, when the bus was already incredibly crowded we stopped in a village where a large group of people were waiting for our arrival. The bus driver told the conductor that there was no room for any more people. The conductor ignored him and squeezed many new passengers on board.
Our fellow passengers were a varied crowd. They included men with curling handle-bar moustaches wearing turbans and loose-fitting white kurtas with baggy trousers. Their clothes were often stained probably because they were worn whilst doing work on the land. At many rural stops, women wearing colourful garb boarded. Many of them were tattooed on whatever parts of their bodies that could be seen and probably also on parts that were not visible in public…”
On a GSRTC bus between Diu and Bhavnagar:
“We boarded a bus belonging to the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (‘GSRTC’). This and other buses belonging to the state-run bus company are superior to any of the private busses we had travelled on. The GSRTC vehicles: are cleaner and more comfortable than the private ones; only stop at bus stands with good facilities; do not tout for business at random wayside stops; and do not admit more passengers than there are seats to accommodate them. We wished that we had not assumed, wrongly, that privately-run buses would be better than those run by the state.”
On a GSRTC bus to Ahmedabad:
“We boarded the newest and most comfortable bus of our trip at Baroda bus stand. Part of the GSRTC fleet, it was a Volvo vehicle. These buses are held in high regard by Indians. As far as buses in India are concerned, they are regarded as Maharajahs amongst the myriad of road transport vehicles. The coach driver asked Lopa her relationship to me. She replied that I am her husband. The driver shrugged his shoulder and replied in Gujarati: ‘It happens’.”
Whether the bus is privately, or state operated, a ‘back-seat driver’ like me cannot avoid being aware of the adventurous driving of the bus drivers:
“Our driver sped along the good roads leading towards the eastern edge of Saurashtra. He overtook frequently and usually hazardously. Often, he had his head turned towards the conductor sitting left of him, chatting with him, rather than looking ahead along the road in front of him. He also made frequent ‘phone calls to people with whom he was doing business, buying and selling vehicles.”